Early farming in Marquette County

That’s an incredible corn stalk grown on the Louis Haight farm in 1912. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Finally, with a little warmth, our gardens are starting to take off, so it’s a good time to talk about farming.

As soon as European settlers arrived to work in the mines and forges, they immediately began to grow foods crops and manage livestock. The supply boats were few and far between. In an unsigned letter written in 1851 by a man who came up to work in the forges in Marquette and Collinsville, he stated:

“This country is great for potatoes, turnips, grass and most kinds of gardening stuff and there is plenty of wild hay that answers well for cows and horses. There is a sort of grass that comes early in the woods like oats and lasts all summer.

“My son-in-law and I planted potatoes on a coal Job (a clearing where they had cleared hardwood for charcoal making). We raised 200 bushels and all the turnips we needed. The rutabagas grow the largest on this new land that I ever saw, but there has been no attention paid to farming here yet.

“The rot spoiled the potatoes down below and none were shipped in and but few people here have any to eat. I am offered $1.50 a bushel but cannot sell many as I have partially cleared 4 acres to plant next year and intend to raise 1,000 bushels and as many turnips which bring in 75 cents a bushel. It is a wonderful country to raise them in. I bought a cow last September for $35, and a ton of hay for $10. I have fed her $15 worth of turnips but sell the milk for 6 cents a quart and average 25 cents a day.

“We make all the butter we need and furnish my two daughters and employer a pint of milk a day, free, so the cow has cleared her keep and today others sell milk for 10-12 cents a quart. We cut a road through to Bay de Noque, 58 miles, last fall and cattle and horses will be driven through next spring. I intend to buy two more cows.”

Mining companies helped to attract farming to the mineral regions which had not been as appealing to farmers as the well-drained, level and rock free good soil of the Great Plains. Many of those who moved here to farm, also worked in the mines in winter which provided a year-round income.

German immigrants were particularly sought after and by the 1860s more were coming to this area. The Kundes, Zerbels, Koepps, Heitmans, Dorows and Priebes settled in the Green Garden area.

To the west of Marquette the Blemhubers, Fassbenders, Vandenbooms, Woolners, Cox and Rubleins established good farms. Robert Blemhuber was the first to develop a commercial orchard just west of the city.

His fruit astounded judges at Michigan state fairs. In 1885 there were still 220,000 acres of federal land and 40,000 acres of state land available in the county.

In the early 1900s, George Voelker and James Kenney decided to try growing celery on three acres of land near Cooper Lake and also near the Barnum House west of Ishpeming.

In 1902 they raised 13,000 bunches. Evidently, celery likes rich, black dirt. Plants were spaced 5 feet apart due to spreading roots and required constant hoeing to prevent toughness.

A unique means of storing their celery underground allowed them to sell the crop right up until Christmas. A trench was dug and the plants were packed in upright with their tops above the ground and then were covered by a roof of boards and straw. A slight frost enhanced the flavor.

No doubt there are many other farming stories out there. The History Center is interested in hearing about centennial farms and the families dedicated to raising crops in this difficult environment. Contact the Marquette Regional History Center if you have information to share.

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